Jan. 5, 2014

The Newborns

by Kathryn Hunt

All through the night,
all through the long witless hallways of my sleep,
from my hospital bed I heard
the newborn babies cry, bewildered,
between worlds, like new arrivals anywhere,
unacquainted with the names of things.

That afternoon a kind nurse named Laura
had taken me for a stroll to exercise
the red line of my wound.
We stopped by the nursery window
and a flannel-swathed boy in a clear plastic cradle
was pushed to the glass. We peered at him
and said, "Welcome. You've come to Earth."
We laughed and shook our heads.

All through the night, all through the
drug-spangled rapture of my dreams,
I heard the newborn babies sing,
first one, then another. The fierce
beginning of their lament, that bright hiss,
those soft octaves of wonder.

"The Newborns" by Kathryn Hunt, from Long Way Through Ruin. © Blue Begonia Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1643 the first legal divorce recorded in the American colonies was finalized. Anne Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had petitioned for divorce from her estranged and adulterous husband, Dennis Clarke. Mr. Clarke admitted to abandoning his wife and two children for another woman, and confirmed that he would not return to the marriage. The court's record read: "She is garunted to bee divorced."

It's the birthday of the woman whom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart addressed "dearest little wife": Constanze Mozart, born Constanze Weber in Zell im Wiesental, Germany (1762). The two of them first met when Wolfgang was 21 and Constanze was 15, but he was not interested in her so much as her sister Aloysia. Aloysia, however, rejected Mozart and married another man. Several years later, Mozart was back in town and boarding at the Weber family's house, and he turned his attentions toward courting Constanze.

Their courtship was rife with jealousy, and it almost ended after Mozart found out that Constanze had let some young man measure the length of her lower leg during a parlor game. But Mozart and Constanze eventually wed in August 1782, when she was 20 and he was 26.

It's the birthday of Jack Norworth, born in Philadelphia in 1879. Jack Norworth had never been to a baseball game, but one day in 1908, he was riding the subway and he saw a sign that said "Baseball Today — Polo Grounds," and he started thinking of baseball lyrics. He wrote them down on a piece of scratch paper and then took them to the composer Albert Von Tilzer, another man who had never seen a baseball game, who wrote the music. And the song became very famous: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

It's the birthday of the man who coined the term "Cold War," Herbert Bayard Swope (books by this author), born in St. Louis, Missouri (1882). He was a journalist and he was the first person ever to receive the Pulitzer Prize for reporting, which he got in 1917 — in the midst of World War I — after writing a series of articles that ran under the title "Inside the German Empire."

He spent decades working for The New York Evening World, taking over as editor of the newspaper in 1920. The following year, in 1921, Swope created the first op-ed page. Many people believe that "op-ed" stands for "opinion-editorial," but it actually means "opposite the editorial page," which is usually where they can be found in the newspaper.

Swope was also a legendary gambler. Two years after he created the op-ed page, he won $470,300 in a poker game, which took place in a railroad car in Palm Beach against an oil baron, a Broadway impresario, and a steel magnate.

It's the birthday of the poet W.D. (William DeWitt) Snodgrass (books by this author) born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania (1926). He started writing poetry at a time when the poets T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound had persuaded most poets writing in English that poetry should be full of imagery and symbols and allusions to mythology, but that it shouldn't contain any obviously personal details.

But while Snodgrass was studying poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the early 1950s, his marriage began to fall apart, and he began writing about it in his poems. He showed some of these personal poems to his teacher, the poet Robert Lowell, but Lowell didn't like them. He said, "You've got a brain; you can't write this kind of tear-jerking stuff.

Lowell later recanted and helped Snodgrass get his poetry collection, Heart's Needle, published in 1959. It was Snodgrass's first book, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. Lowell called it "a breakthrough for modern poetry."

Snodgrass's work helped inspire a whole new school of poetry in which American poets began to write openly about their personal lives for the first time in decades.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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